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The “largest event in music history” vs. the small non-events that make music great

December 12, 2012

Today is December 12.  12/12/2012.  Or as you may have seen it plastered everywhere you look,


There is an incredible, possibly historical, concert event going on tonight, “The Concert for Sandy Relief”, which as you probably know features arguably the greatest all-star lineup of performers ever assembled[1].  The sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden is being shown on 37 television stations in the United States and more than 200 others worldwide.  It will be streamed on 30 websites, including on YouTube and Yahoo, and played on radio stations.  Movie theaters, including 27 in the New York region and dozens more elsewhere, will also show it live.  More than two billion people are expected to have access to the performance.  Hell, somehow they’re even reuniting Nirvana for one night.  No wonder some are calling it “the largest event in music history.”

I would love to be there to see it live, but I won’t be.  As much as I’d like to contribute to help those victimized by Hurricane Sandy, tickets starting at above $500 on the secondary market are way out of my price range.  I’d like to watch it in a theater, but none of those showing it are particularly convenient.  I suppose I’ll watch some of it on television, like a billion other people (literally), but at that point aren’t all of the benefits of the live concert experience pretty much gone?  Why is it that a sure-to-be-legendary concert is hours away from happening right in my backyard, with a lineup to rival that of the original Woodstock or the opening concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, yet I’m no more excited than I’d be if I won my money back in a $5 lotto scratch-off?

Let’s rule one thing out: it’s not because I don’t appreciate the importance of the cause.  Unfortunately I know more than my share of people who were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  New York is still feeling the ramifications over a month later.  Years from now many of us will be telling our children tales of the Superstorm that hit the northeast in the fall of 2012.  Most of us will likely forget, however, (if we haven’t already) that less than a week after the great hurricane, before some people even had power back in their homes, a Nor’easter trampled through NYC, dropping over 6 inches of snow on people already battered by the storm in what could only be described as Mother Nature’s way of adding insult to injury.  For me, the night of that Nor’easter tells the story of the joy of discovering and following a small, little-known band, and the real allure of NYC, in a way that the raw gargantuan power of the 12-12-12 concert cannot.

On November 7, 2012, I was planning to see Royal Bangs & Hollerado perform at Mercury Lounge and, snow be damned, I was going to make it there.  As shows were being canceled all over town, including the earlier show at the very same Mercury Lounge, I kept my eyes on the Bowery Presents twitter feed, confident that no news meant good news – the show would go on.  I met my friend Garl on 1st Ave and Houston as the snow came crashing down – streetlights were out, street signs were impossible to make out – both of us witnessed slow motion car accidents as we separately emerged from the F train station.  Determined, we marched through the snow and found an open Mexican restaurant, downed a few cervezas, and continued on to Mercury.

I had seen Hollerado once before, as the opening act for Tokyo Police Club at Bowery Ballroom earlier in the year, and thought their live show was amazing.  Prior to that night I had never heard of them, but I walked out of Bowery a fan, with their debut CD (which they were kind and smart enough to give away free at the show) in my hands.  In between their set and the TPC set, the Hollerado band members congregated just behind where I was seated in the balcony.  I timidly approached and told them what a great show they just put on.  They graciously thanked me, adding “make sure you come out and see us next time we’re in NYC.”  Five months later here I was – take that Mother Nature! – going to see Hollerado.

Garl and I walked in and handed over our tickets to the woman at the door.  Casually she took them and off-handedly remarked, “these guys won’t be performing, only they will,” as she pointed to a paper on her podium.  Needless to say, ‘these guys’ were Hollerado and ‘they’ were Royal Bangs, who are a decent enough band but weren’t coming on for another two hours and simply weren’t who I came out in the snow to see.  The lesson, as always – you can’t beat Mother Nature.

Dejected, Garl and I made the best of a busted night by grabbing a couple of beers nearby.  The canceled show gave us a chance to relax, catch up, swap a few stories … Hollerado may have let us down, but NYC never does.  There’s always another place to go, a different experience waiting in the wings.  This is one of the many things I love about this city – every adventure has an understudy. You may not get the experience you were expecting, but you never go home without a performance, so to speak.  But I digress.

Later that night, I dropped onto twitter to see what had happened with the show.  No word from the Bowery Presents or Mercury Lounge about the mysterious cancellation.  However, I noticed a link to follow @hollerado , where I was able to see the band’s live struggle with the decision to cancel its show due to the snowstorm and their sincere apology to their fans.


They invited ticket-holders to email (which I did) and responded kindly to my email within several hours, offering to send out some t-shirts and to keep me updated on a make-up show.  Less than two weeks later, a couple of Hollerado tees arrived in my mailbox, souvenirs from a show that never was.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get back the $10 per ticket that I spent on the show, and I probably won’t ever wear the pink and grey t-shirt that arrived that night.  But as long as they keep putting out good music and doing right by their fans, Hollerado will have a fan in me.  It doesn’t take much, but it’s the little things that an up-and-coming band can do that the hall-of-famers performing at the 12-12-12 concert cannot (though maybe they once did) that sets them apart in my mind.  Some friendly banter at a show, a free CD, a few endearing twitter posts, and a modest effort to show that you care about the people who care about your music.  This is what makes music special, what drives it forward.  There’s a place in the modern music world for the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen – someone has to raise money for Hurricane Relief – but that place is not in my heart.  So tonight I may or may not catch some of the largest event in music history, but you can be certain that I won’t miss the next time Hollerado is in town.

[1] Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Roger Waters, Kanye West, Eddie Vedder, The Who and Paul McCartney are scheduled to perform.  Whew.

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